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Astroworld victims died from having the breath squeezed out of them, officials say

Flowers left for victims of Astroworld disaster
Bouquets are left at a memorial to the victims of the Astroworld concert disaster in Houston last month.
(Robert Bumsted / Associated Press)

The 10 people killed at the Astroworld music festival in Houston all died from compression asphyxia during a massive crowd surge in which attendees were packed so tightly that many could not breathe or move their arms, officials announced Thursday.

According to a medical expert, what probably happened was that the pressure from the large crowd at the event was so great that it quickly squeezed all the air from the lungs of the 10 victims, causing them to pass out within a minute or so and die because critical organs, such as the heart and brain, were depleted of oxygen.

Dr. George W. Williams, a critical care anesthesiologist with the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, said the hundreds and possibly thousands of pounds of pressure the victims likely felt on their chests was “like being crushed by a car.”

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“Seconds really do count to allow for that person to recover and to be rescued from that terrible event. ... The organs like the brain and the heart start getting injury, and, after three to four minutes, that injury becomes so severe to where you can’t bring that person back,” said Williams, who also works at Harris Health LBJ, one of the health science center’s teaching hospitals.

Medical examiners with the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences in Houston had to wait several weeks following the Nov. 5 concert by rap superstar Travis Scott for additional test results before making final determinations on the cause and manner of the deaths. The manner of the deaths was ruled as an accident.

The 10 people who died were among 50,000 who attended the festival and were in the audience when Scott’s concert turned deadly.

Authorities continue to investigate the deadly crowd surge at the Astroworld Festival as lawsuits against Travis Scott and Live Nation pile up.

The youngest victim was 9-year-old Ezra Blount. The others who died ranged in age from 14 to 27. Medical examiners said contributing factors in one man’s death were cocaine, methamphetamine and ethanol, a form of alcohol.

Some 300 people were injured and treated at the festival site and 25 were taken to hospitals.

More than 300 lawsuits have been filed over injuries and deaths at the concert.

Alex Hilliard, an attorney representing Ezra’s family, said the news of how the victims died is “devastating” to their families.

Jim Bollenbacher wrote about his work as a festival medic in “Molly, Mushrooms and Mayhem.” A year later, he draws lessons from the Astroworld tragedy

“There is not going to be one single family member that isn’t completely broken into pieces all over again after learning of this information,” Hilliard said.

James Lassiter, an attorney representing the family of Bharti Shahani, who died several days after the concert, said the medical examiner’s findings confirmed her family’s worst fears.

“Their beloved daughter’s last living moments were surely marked with suffering, panic and terror. It’s a horrific, inescapable image that no parent should have to endure,” Lassiter said.

Scott and the event organizers are the focus of a criminal investigation by Houston police. No one has been charged. No timetable has been set for when the investigation would be completed.

In a statement posted on Twitter, Houston police said Thursday that investigators were still conducting interviews and reviewing video and other evidence and would provide updates in the coming weeks on the progress of the investigation.


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